BAMPFA’s 40-Year Experiment with Artist-Driven Ideas

A radical approach in 1978, MATRIX has remained dynamic by putting the artists first.


Visit an American art museum in 2018, and you’re likely to encounter work that is new, current, experimental. Forty years ago, though, such of-the-moment work — perhaps as-yet untested, unvalidated, unencumbered by academic or critical analysis — was rare. Such was the context into which James Elliott, then the new director of what is now the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive (BAMPFA), introduced MATRIX in 1978.

Conceived by Elliott three years earlier at the Wadsworth Atheneum, MATRIX proposed to present “a cumulative and ongoing statement reflective of the wide range of ideas being explored by today’s artists.”

Forty years and 269 exhibitions later, at BAMPFA MATRIX has evolved along with those wide-ranging ideas, embracing an ever-wider spectrum of media, cultures, and geography, and has provided a foundation for scores of kindred programs, while compiling an ongoing record of decades of contemporary thought and practice.

From MATRIX 1–3 in 1978—a trio of simultaneous exhibitions by Ursula Schneider, Ree Morton, and Susan Rothenberg —to the current MATRIX 269 by Jay Heikes and upcoming 270 by Alicia McCarthy and Ruby Neri, the program has remained driven by artists’ ideas and work, offering, as BAMFPA’s first MATRIX curator, Michael Auping, described: “a process of inquiry, a space to question, learn, and establish value within the ‘new.’”

Explore forty years of MATRIX.